A United Nations expert group that conducted an investigation on the arrest and detention of Cambodian American human rights activist and lawyer Theary Seng has issued a call for her immediate release.
Unlawful detention: In a judgment released on July 12, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that Seng is being “arbitrarily detained in violation of international law.”
Seng was sentenced to a six-year prison term in June of last year after being convicted of conspiracy to commit treason and other charges in a mass trial. Cambodian authorities accused Seng and her co-defendants of organizing the failed attempt by the Cambodian National Rescue Party’s leader, Sam Rainsy, to return from exile in 2019.
At the time, the U.S. condemned the trial for being politically motivated, aimed at curbing opposition against the rule of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen
, who has been in power since 1998.
Political motivation: The UN report stated Seng was jailed for making two Facebook posts criticizing Hun and her conviction was due to the regime’s “political motivation.” According to the report, Seng’s detention is part of a broader crackdown on freedom of expression, taking into account the various violations of due process she faced that were aimed at silencing her.
Seng, who escaped Cambodia as a child following the genocide under the radical-communist Khmer Rouge regime, grew up in Michigan before returning to Cambodia in 2004. She founded two non-governmental organizations focusing on human rights and civic engagement.
The Perseus Strategies, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Freedom House organizations represented Seng pro-bono and brought her case before the UN working group.
“Imbued with a moral compass that never waivers, Theary Seng is a hero of human rights, democratic reforms, and justice,” international counsel Kerry Kennedy said in a statement. “Her voice, fearless and mighty, was then and is today vital to freedom. In concert with the recommendations of the Working Group, Theary Seng must be immediately released.”
Hold to power: The UN report comes just over a week ahead of Cambodia’s general election, which is expected to result in a landslide victory for Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The only viable opposition party, the Candlelight Party, was disqualified from participating in the election due to a technicality imposed by the National Election Committee. Pro-democracy groups have long criticized Cambodian courts for their perceived lack of independence from Hun Sen’s influence.
Ruling out any possibility of pardoning Seng, Hun publicly instructed the Justice Minister last month to dismiss any requests for amnesty or sentence reduction on her behalf.